Nowhere to Be

Nowhere to Be (a “poem” I wrote typed on my phone while on a walk)

What a privilege it is to have nowhere to be
this morning, outdoors, with the cold wind on my face.
I pass the construction workers on the main street nearby
as the sun rises
and I yell “good morning” and they yell “good morning” back
“Have a wonderful day!” we say.
They are working
and soon I will be, too, but for now
I have nowhere to be
but here, outdoors, with the sun shining on my face.


I love walks. I’m thinking of all the wonderful walks I’ve been on over the past few months. Coronavirus sucks a lot a lot a lot but I am thankful for the time it has given me to walk. Yesterday I watched a Sierra Club livestream about post-election work for environmental justice and Leslie Fields (fucking badass, by the way) said it beautifully: “One of the few silver linings about this syndemic…is that people have really gotten outdoors. People have really explored their local parks, they’ve explored their national parks, they’ve just explored their neighborhood better and gotten to know their neighborhoods. How do we bottle these feelings of connectivity and make sure it lasts when we get through this terrible time?”

Actually, the parenthetical appreciation for Leslie is not enough: WHAT A F*CKIN BADASS!!!!!! If you’re interested in the wisdom she has to share about environmental justice and the work we can do together, you can watch the recording here (22:15 onward is where she makes some of my favorite comments).

And as usual, a blog post that started about something (walking) ended up with me ranting about something else (badass women doing incredible work for environmental justice). That’s the point of writing – or any kind of critical thinking, really – though, right? To make connections between things? To find relations and intersections between everything we read and experience and consume?


Some of my favorite walking memories & photos from the past month:

With Dana along the coast in Half Moon Bay as the sun set. Golden hour with a golden gal, if you will:

With Thomas along the Tuolumne River on my birthday weekend. We sat along the edge of the river on the most wonderful, peaceful morning:

By myself through our new neighborhood. Moving from San Francisco to Berkeley has given me an entirely new 5-block radius to explore:

I brought home one of the pineapple guavas pictured above because I hadn’t seen any since Thomas and I did a hike along the Nā Pali Coast on our honeymoon. We hiked the full Kalalau Trail and had enough food for the round trip journey, but we (naïvely) underestimated the Hawaiian summer heat and humidity and ran out of water halfway through. On the trail home we picked pineapple guavas from surrounding trees and sucked their juices for hydration. I guess it worked, considering we made it back alive. And here’s a fun fact: the pineapple guavas are actually an invasive species and pose an ecological threat to the endemic flora and fauna in Hawaii.

A little thank you, then, to the random house in Berkeley who reminded me of our honeymoon adventure. (Thomas wouldn’t eat the guava, though, which was disappointing.)

Good morning!

It’s a great morning to:

  • wake up obscenely early (4:30am) because you needed to pee and then once you were awake your mind started racing so you just got up instead of lying anxiously in bed
  • drink coffee and
  • watch videos from Bruce’s 1975 Hammersmith Odeon show and
  • cry of emotion before 5am!

For reference:

1975 Bruce is…everything to me. His beanie!!!!!!!!!!

And – because why not – here are couple of my favorite relatable tweets from the past week:

Oh wait…that last one was my own…that I tweeted just now while in an 8am meeting with teammates from Israel. I’ve been working with our Tel Aviv team more often and I don’t think anyone quite yet understands how much 8am meetings suit my lifestyle.

The only issue with having to join this meeting was that it meant I had to change out of this amazing fuzzy polar bear PJ set my brother got me for Christmas a few years ago:

As much as I tend to push the boundaries of what is professional work attire, I will draw the line at fuzzy PJ tops (for the sake of my career only).

Anyway, this week in longer-form content:

  • I enjoyed this article about workplace ambition during covid. Highly relatable
  • I finished reading Fates and Furies and have started reading Deacon King Kong. Impromptu book club anyone? Or, since we’re all lazy and scheduling is hard, please comment your thoughts on those books on this post
  • Important: Criminal Justice on the 2020 Ballot
  • I agreed with this Atlantic piece on the American “College Experience” (namely how ridiculous it is)
  • And, if you have time to watch, I strongly recommend “Gather,” a documentary on Indigenous food systems that is perfectly timed in celebration of this month’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Happy Wednesday, folks. Don’t forget to vote and cry if you need to and buy everything pumpkin-flavored from the store before they stupidly stop stocking the best flavor of all time.

Without Expectation

The morning air is cold and dry. Beneath the trees, on the trails covered with cracked and faded-brown leaves, it smells like winter. There is no one else around and I imagine myself on a mountain.

I am trying on this Monday morning to approach the week “without expectation.” I say these words to myself on the empty trail; they seem truer when I speak them aloud.

Maybe it’s because I am now “officially” a year older – my birthday was last week – that my thoughts about where I should be at this point in my life, or what I should have accomplished, are worse than usual. My tendency to compare myself to others has been strong and inevitably I’ve been feeling bad about myself. (“Why aren’t you this?” “Why haven’t you done that?” “If you weren’t so lazy you could have [xyz].”

Maybe, too, my anxiety is running especially high in anticipation of next week’s election – I know I’m not alone in feeling scared. I oscillate between doing the small things I can (donating, voting, writing postcards) and being paralyzed by fear and helplessness.

Usually when things are uncertain and I feel bad about myself I return to unhelpful coping mechanisms to maintain a semblance of control. I make plans for things I “need” to do or accomplish that week; I’ll sign up for too much; I’ll put pressure on myself to accomplish something grand. My expectations of myself are unrealistic and founded on fear and shame rather than pride and self-esteem. They are harmful rather than helpful as I always end up feeling worse when I (inevitably) cannot meet the exceedingly high expectations I have set for myself. In addition, I am unable to celebrate whatever things I may have accomplished because anything less than my original expectation is automatic failure. It’s all-or-nothing in my mind: perfection or disaster, there is no in between.

So there is no list of “things I need to do in order to be good enough/not fail” this Monday morning. I sit with the part of me that wants to give in to this compulsion to plan, to act, to expect of myself, but I don’t give in to it. Instead I close my weekly planner and go for a walk. (To be more explicit: a walk, rather than some intense exercise or a workout with a goal in mind. This is me slowing down. Without expectation.)


Monday evening: I lie in bed with Thomas, we watch an episode of “The Great British Bake Show.” In a shocking turn of events, I have not saved the world today. I have not single-handedly influenced the results of next week’s election; I have not founded my dream nonprofit; I have not run a world-record-breaking time on the trail nearby. And if I had started my day by expecting these things of myself…well, let’s be honest, none of them were going to happen anyway. My expectations would have done nothing but set me up for feeling like a failure at the end of the day. My belief that these expectations “motivate me” is unfounded. In retrospect, not once has setting too-high expectations meant I’ve achieved more. If anything I am more motivated when I begin from a place of acceptance and self-esteem: that I am OK as I am, that whatever I do or don’t do that day has no bearing on my worth as a person.

Am I overthinking my birthday? Probably. But it feels good to write this out, to acknowledge and give voice to parts of myself I’m ashamed of. Also – and maybe this will be the more optimistic part 2 of my “birthday reflection” series – Thomas took me to Sonoma for some amazing wine-tasting and so, as we lie in bed watching adorable British people bake biscuits, my anxieties are equally matched by my gratitude in this first day of my next year of life.

Morro Bay

For how much exploring I’ve done in California, so little of it has been south of Monterey. I’ve visited some of the “heavy hitters,” if you will – Joshua Tree, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Sequoia National Forest – but my tendency is to drive north of the Bay especially for shorter weekend trips. As a result, I’ve only been to California’s Central Coast once or twice and even then only briefly. Last weekend, however, Thomas and I drove four hours south to join a few friends who have been staying in Morro Bay, a beautiful coastal town just outside of San Luis Obispo.

Between Thomas’ school and job, covid, and our move to Berkeley, it’s been a while since we got out of town. Thomas has also been anti-weekend-trip because he “dislikes driving distances over two hours” but apparently when his football-watching and board-game-playing buddies are there, he’ll gladly make the trip.

Me, realizing it’s not that he dislikes driving, but that he doesn’t enjoy my company enough to make weekend trips worthwhile.

Most of our road trips consist of me hogging the aux cord and playing my favorite music while he complains that it’s putting him to sleep. This time, however, we downloaded an audio book he needed to read for class and, with the help of the 1.5x speed feature, listened to the entire book on the drive there. While the book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, was assigned by his professor in the context of navigating policy negotiations, I listened to it through the lens of our marriage (“How can I win more arguments about what we should eat for dinner?”). It is, of course, one of those books where the negotiation framework presented is applicable to many things: relationships, business, communication, decision-making, etc. My general reaction to the book was, “I don’t think these guys needed to write a whole book to explain these concepts” (which is how I feel about a lot of “business” books) but it was interesting to think about how the principles applied to my job and relationships.

In general, the book’s concepts were straightforward and intuitive: don’t approach negotiations with a fixed position; rather, work to understand everyone’s interests and goals first and then identify possible options that can elicit mutual benefit. Nothing the book explained was new or surprising to me, though it did provide more structure to what I’ve already found to be successful in my job. Perhaps my biggest takeaway was that being a Product Manager is really just a lot of negotiation (which, again, is obvious if you take a moment to think about it). The authors’ principles for successful negotiation aligned with what I’ve seen from the best product managers when it comes to making difficult decisions or having tough conversations: identify everyone’s interests and stakes, understand everyone’s motives, lay out the problem first rather than jumping to solutions, make others feel involved in the decision-making process, etc.

…wow, gross, this is not becoming a “How to Be A Good Product Manager” blog, I promise! My worst fear (aside from mediocrity, death, and Thomas running off with a beautiful French woman) is becoming one of those LinkedIn influencers who thinks they have something revolutionary to say.

Anyway. We arrived a few hours later in Morro Bay and enjoyed the most relaxing weekend we’ve had in a while. It consisted of many of my favorite things: burritos, beer, sunrises, sunsets, ocean, friends, mint chip ice cream, music, board games, and trails.

At the risk of getting too personal too quickly: it was the first time in a while I had few days where I didn’t feel bad about myself. For one, I wasn’t working and therefore didn’t have my usual thoughts of, “you’re messing up at your job,” “your career isn’t going anywhere,” “you should be doing more,” “your coworkers hate you,” etc. Next, I spent time doing only things I enjoyed rather than things I felt I should be doing or were doing as a means to an end. By which I mean: I went surfing and absolutely sucked at it and had the most amazing time ever. I drank beer and ate chips and tacos and ice cream and didn’t give a fuck what I looked like because that seemed so trivial in the grand scheme of my life. Lastly, and most importantly, I surrounded myself with people who made me feel good. I’m convinced there is no greater path to happiness than to seek out people who don’t make you feel like you need to be someone else, either explicitly or implicitly. Be honest with yourself about who – maybe through no fault or intention of their own – makes you feel bad or less-than or like you need to change, and remove them from your life. (This includes on social media, by the way.)

Though they might not realize it, the people with whom I spent the weekend are the kind of people who shift my mindset from “you should be doing this” to “who gives a sh*t if you’re not doing this or achieving that, life is so much bigger than how you feel about yourself.”

It never hurts to have the trees and waves and mountains to remind you of your insignificance either.

Pots & Pans & Parts of Me

I woke up this morning, brushed my teeth, and did the dishes. All I do is the dishes. I need more hobbies. And less dishes. And better strategies for coping with my anxiety and need for control.

Thomas made toaster waffles for breakfast instead of his usual oatmeal so that was exciting. He still ate the waffles though, as he does the oatmeal, with mini frozen blueberries that stain our plates and his teeth bright purple.

I had an 8am work meeting that got cancelled at 7:59am, which was frustrating because I’d intentionally changed out of my pajamas and into presentable Zoom attire three hours ahead of schedule. Now I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go virtually dial into.

In my newly-free hour I did a bit of work and then a bit of sketching (see: alternative methods of coping with anxiety).

You will notice in the background the playlist that has been my soundtrack for the past few months; I haven’t updated the title since I created it in July, but you could really substitute in any month at this point. It should now read: “October’s a messsssss.”

In the spirit of messiness, my mantra for this week is something I wrote down in my notebook a few days ago: “I am making room for all the parts of myself.”

I am making room for the “dumb” parts, the “boring” parts, the “unworthy” parts of myself. The parts that – in my attempts to always appear smart and funny and thoughtful, and in my great fear of coming across as stupid or boring or worthless – I suppress.

I am afraid of the “unimpressive” parts of myself, the ones that aren’t worthy of praise or recognition. But those are parts of me nonetheless, and the more I deny their existence the more I reinforce my belief that I’m only worthwhile because of the impressive parts.

Maybe sharing these posts is a way for me to conquer that fear; to express all the parts of myself – even the dumb, unpolished ones that just write about coffee and binge watch “Selling Sunset” – more authentically. To say, in other words, “This is me, take it or leave it!”

I am making room for all the parts of myself. Let’s see which Maddy shows up today…

Away From Me

I spent yesterday morning painting. I was trying to paint an image of where I wish I were – in the springtime-green mountains of Colorado – instead of here, inside, sweating, as smoke swirls around us.

I spent yesterday evening reading Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It has to be more than coincidence that sometimes I pick up a book and read a sentence that seems to have been written for me in that moment:

‘Have you ever made a scene,’ you said, filling in a Thomas Kinkade house, ‘and then put yourself inside it? Have you ever watched yourself from behind, going further and deeper into that landscape, away from you?’

My relationship to art – my need for art – serves a purpose something like that: getting me away from myself.

I’m constantly inundated by thoughts of my worth, my purpose, the impact of my actions, the importance (or lack thereof) of my work. When I’m immersed in art – whether it be experiencing art or creating it – I lose myself. I simultaneously think less of myself and feel more myself.

Art (and nature, of course) are places where I can just be. It doesn’t matter how I feel or how I look because I am nothing more than there in that moment. I become detached from myself in all the ways that are so often harmful.


This morning I finished my painting. I watched Ben Howard perform my favorite songs on YouTube. I read more of my book. I didn’t think once of myself.

Candy Corn Contemplations

It’s a Sunday Sunday. Meaning:

  • I left the house only once, which was to go to Target for toilet bowl cleaner, and ended up buying a big bag of candy corn that I finished on the walk home.
  • I told myself I’d cook the tofu and kale I bought earlier this week (in a fleeting moment of grocery-store-optimism) for lunch; instead, I ate slices of bread with cheese and a mixing bowl full of popcorn.
  • Every time I catch myself in the mirror I have thoughts about how lazy, ugly, useless, etc. etc. etc. I am.
  • I sat on the couch and watched almost two hours of YouTube videos and if you ask me what I watched I genuinely would not be able to tell you.
  • Then, I mindlessly scrolled on Twitter until Thomas – who has been diligently doing school work all day – asked me what I was doing and I felt so guilty that I put down my computer for an hour.

Wait.

Something about writing that list was oddly cathartic. Instead of further internalizing these shame-filled, self-deprecating thoughts and letting them dictate (read: ruin) the rest of my evening, I’ve shared them with you which, incidentally, has meant that I now feel a level of separation between myself and those thoughts. Here’s a garbage doodle of what I mean:

I couldn’t separate myself from my thoughts before writing that list. Now, they are still there, but they feel a little further away. My thoughts != me.

After sharing all of the ways in which I’ve “let myself down” and “been unproductive” today, these negative thoughts have transformed into humorous anecdotes. This blog is basically free therapy!!! Thanks, reader!!! Maybe you and I both can laugh at the image of me trudging down the street at 9am eating candy corn pumpkins for breakfast???

Candy Corn - Imgflip
Related: your annual reminder^

Oh! In the blistering heat of hating myself, I forgot to mention that not only did I end up cleaning the toilet bowls, but I also did my laundry (and Thomas’. #bestwifeever. #butimafeministthough).

Ohhhh nothing cheers me up like a good Bitmoji.
A nice visual representation of me feeling like sh*t but also laughing about it! Thanks, Bitmoji!

The original intent of this post, for the record, was to recount moments of happiness from the past week. While it may have briefly transitioned into a more pessimistic broadcast, I will now share its optimistic half. Without further ado,

Maddy’s Moments of Happiness (Which Are Really Just an Excuse to Share Sunset Photos), Week of September 20, 2020:

— I watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in awhile from our rooftop with Thomas:

— I went for a walk around the block and felt transported to the desert when I came across a garden full of succulents and bright flowers, and then again to an entirely different fall-forest-world by the bright read leaves of one of my favorite trees in Berkeley:

— A friend got me a gift card to a popular bakery in Berkeley! The thought of waiting in a long weekend line for a trendy spot means I haven’t gone yet, but I plan to start my week off right with some delicious pastries on Monday morning.

— I read a good book. Actually, I read three good books this week. (I need to find hobbies other than reading.) Pictured here is the happiest of these book-reading moments as it came paired with rosé and tortilla chips on a Friday afternoon:

— Two (!!!!!!) of our friend-couples got engaged!!!!! I didn’t realize how desperate I was for moments of love and joy until one of them FaceTimed us from across the country to share the news and I started sobbing. It was kind of awkward because the guy in said couple is Thomas’ friend so I don’t think it made sense to anyone that I was crying tears of happiness while Thomas, of course, remained relatively calm.

So, as we begin another week, here’s to the small moments of joy that keep us going…

…even on a Sunday when the best we can do is clean the toilet and show up again tomorrow.

Respite in the Redwoods

Last Thursday morning I went for a bike ride. The best kind of bike ride, in my opinion: one on which I take more pictures than I ride miles.

It was the first day that week the smoke had cleared enough to get outside and I can’t remember ever breathing in the morning air so heavily.

Since then, the smoke has returned, and – maybe related, I’m not sure (so many confounding factors these days!!!!) – I’ve been feeling exhausted and sad.

I’m too tired to write anything of my own but I have spent the past week doing a lot of reading. So, in appreciation for the healing powers of both nature and art, I thought I’d share some of my favorite redwood-related poems and excerpts with you all:

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

OPTIMISM
by Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.


Woods are not like other spaces… They make you feel small.. like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie and you know you are in a big space. Stand in a woods and you only sense it. They are a vast featureless nowhere. And they are alive.”

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods